Thinking Forward

By on October 18, 2013

Customer service is being re-invented with an attitude that is very different from what we are used to seeing. Companies are beginning to think forward for their customers—to anticipate how they can become a more valuable partner.

Steve Jobs once described the difference between TV and the Web as Lean Back vs. Sit Forward media. Television and the lifestyle changes in the second half of the 20th Century encouraged us to be inactive and wait for information to come to us. By contrast, it’s not difficult to imagine the age we live in today, with the prominence of video games, news feeds and high-powered search engines, as the Sit Forward era. We are always pushing to find the newest idea that will make us more productive.

Every year, Beloit College publishes its Mindset List of things their freshman class has never experienced. It began in 1998 as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, but it quickly grew to a catalog of cultural milestones that is followed internationally. For example, the Class of 2016 cannot picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it. And because they have never really known a world without the high connectivity tools provided by advanced technology, they are probably the most tribal generation in history and, consequently, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

We have created a world in which access to everything is more direct—news, information searches, etc. From the standpoint of effort we have to put into it, we expect tomorrow's product or process to be easier and more intuitive for us.

In this new world order, a Sit Forward organization must have a different metabolism. It cannot remain a Lean Back organization that has simply adapted a few advances in technology. Studies have shown that Generation-Y individuals, the aptly named digital natives (The Digital Divide), who have known nothing other than the digital age, learn and communicate differently from digital immigrants, such as Baby Boomers, who have adopted a few technological trends but still think like the era they are more familiar with.

The same applies to the world of customers who are challenging us to learn new ways. Companies are going to have problems if they don’t keep up (because they have settled into a Lean Back mindset). Style points won’t impress customers any more. Survival requires being obsessed with high performance in the world of customers that goes far beyond selling a product.

These are exciting times for suppliers that want to develop stronger connections with their customers. But this age requires a kind of behavior far different than a lean-back attitude. The organizations that think forward and sit forward to create customer success will be the ones that will prosper and grow.

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